Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine is Effective Against Variants: Studies

Two studies have found that the vaccine is highly effective against the UK and South Africa variant.

Coronavirus variants: As new COVID mutations and variants are reported from Japan, Brazil, UK and South Africa, what makes them different?

On 5 May, two studies from Qatar and Israel found that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine was effective against severe diseases caused by the UK and South Africa variants.

The two studies were based on the real-world use of the vaccines and saw effectiveness against severe disease, pneumonia and death, reported the New York Times. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is based on data from 200,000 people who got the jab in Qatar between 1 February and 31 March (as per their national COVID databases.) The second study was published in The Lancet and was based on 230,000 infections that occurred in Israel between 24 January and 3 April.

Previous research showed that the UK variant, B.1.1.7 was more transmissible and virulent, but COVID vaccines still worked against it. However, the South Africa variant, B.1.351 seemed to have increased chances of escaping vaccine protection. For example, South Africa halted the AstraZeneca vaccine in February 2021 as it did not seem to provide protection against mild or severe disease caused by the variant.

So, the most recent results are “good news” says, Dr Annelies Wilder-Smith, an infectious disease researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to the New York Times.


What Did the Qatar Study Say?

As per the study from Qatari data, the previous sequencing showed that infections were caused primarily by both the South African and UK variants.

  • The timing between the two doses of the vaccine was crucial.

The researchers found that the vaccine was 87 to 89.5 per cent effective at preventing infection with the UK variant, B.1.1.7 among people who were at least two weeks past their second shot.

They also found it was 72.1 to 75 per cent effective at preventing infection with the South Africa variant, B.1.351 in those who had reached the two-week point.

In a highly infectious and deadly variant, 75 per cent is “really great for a variant which is probably the nastiest of all the variants of concern,” says Laith Abu-Raddad, one of the study authors and an infectious disease epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar told NYT.

  • Effective at preventing severe outcomes

The study found that the vaccine was 97.4 per cent effective at preventing severe, critical or fatal disease, and 100 per cent effective at preventing severe, critical or fatal disease caused by B.1.1.7 or B.1.351.

What Did the Israel Study Say?

The Lancet study was conducted by researchers at the Israel Ministry of Health and Pfizer based on 230,000 infections. Interestingly, in a country with almost half the population vaccinated, they found that the UK variant was responsible for almost 95 per cent of all COVID cases.

  • Protection against severe outcomes

Again, like in the Qatar study, the researchers here too found that the vaccine was 95 per cent effective against severe COVID infection, hospitalization and death among fully vaccinated people 16 and older. It also found that in those ages 85 and older, it was still 94 per cent effective at protecting against infection, hospitalization and death.

  • More the vaccination, less the incidence of infection

The study found that as the percentage of fully (two doses) vaccinated people grew in each age group, the overall incidences of COVID infections in the group fell. T

This decline in overall infection rate matched the timings of increased vaccine coverage better than at the start of a nationwide lockdown. This means it’s likely that Israel’s rapid vaccination rate has helped with their decline in infections.
  • Two doses are better than one

Both studies found that two doses of the vaccine offered more protection than just one jab. In the Israel study, one dose of the vaccine was 77 per cent effective against death, while two doses were 96.7 per cent effective.

The bottom line is that the studies suggest vaccination as an effective strategy against variants.

(With inputs from New York Times)

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